What is a Gluten-Free Diet?
A gluten-free diet is simply a diet that eliminates gluten and benefits those who have a gluten sensitivity or celiac disease. Gluten is a type of protein found in wheat products that can cause inflammation and disease in people with sensitivities. Gluten is found in many foods that are staples of the standard American diet such as bread, pasta, crackers, cookies, and more.
There are many people who choose to enjoy a gluten-free diet for added health benefits, but it is pretty much completely necessary for those with celiac disease or gluten sensitivities.
What is Celiac Disease?
Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease characterized by an extreme sensitivity to gluten. If you have celiac, eating even a small amount of gluten can trigger an immune response.
That immune response can damage the small intestine’s lining and can cause problems with nutrient absorption, leading to a whole slew of unpleasant and even dangerous conditions.
What are the symptoms of celiac disease?
According to the Mayo Clinic, symptoms of celiac disease may include:
- Weight loss.
- Bloating and gas.
- Abdominal pain.
- Nausea and vomiting.
- Headaches and fatigue.
- Nervous system problems like tingling, numbness, or loss of balance.
- Joint pain.
- And more.
It is also possible to experience a sensitivity to gluten that is not celiac disease.
What are the signs of gluten sensitivity?
According to the Celiac Disease Foundation, signs of a gluten sensitivity can include:
- Brain fog.
- ADHD-like behavior.
- Abdominal pain.
- Joint pain.
- Chronic fatigue.
It is estimated that 1% of the American population has celiac disease and about 6% suffer from a gluten sensitivity. There are some people who do not have a diagnosed condition or sensitivity report that a gluten-free diet improves their sense of well-being.
* If you suspect you have gluten sensitivity or celiac disease, check with your doctor to find out if this diet may work for you.
What Can’t You Eat on the GF Diet?
A gluten-free diet requires eliminating any list of foods that contain gluten. Gluten is usually found in bread, crackers, and pasta, along with a variety of other foods.
The good news is that because of the popularity of this diet; there are many gluten-free substitutes for common foods available at most grocery stores.
Foods that usually contain gluten:
- French fries.
- Pizza dough.
- Snack food seasoning.
- Some bottled salad dressings.
- Some canned soups.
- Some processed meats.
Hidden forms of gluten:
If you are following a gluten-free diet, it is a good idea to get in the habit of reading all of your labels to make sure it is on the approved list. Keep an eye out for these ingredients that include the gluten protein:
- Enriched flour.
- Graham flour.
- Phosphate flour.
- Semolina (often found in pasta).
- Wheat flour.
*Oats are sometimes processed in a plant with gluten and can cause problems for people who suffer from celiac disease.
What Can You Eat on a GF Diet?
When eating a gluten-free diet, you will want to fill up on whole foods that are naturally gluten-free such as vegetables, fruits, lean meats, nuts, seeds, and oils.
When eating grains and grain-based foods on this diet, stick to the gluten-free grains on this list or any products that include the gluten-free label, such as:
- Almond flour.
- Coconut flour.
- Gluten-free flours.
Because of the GF diet’s popularity, most products will clearly label that they are gluten-free.
Consider a GF diet plan
There are many gluten-free meal plans that can help you navigate and find foods that you can still enjoy. Finding new recipes will show you how to do simple ingredient swaps of your favorite meals. These plans can help your transition to a GF diet be a little easier.
You can check out many gluten-free diet meal plans here:
Challenges on the GF Diet
Eliminating foods that you eat on a regular basis can be challenging. Here are some of the common challenges people experience transitioning to a GF diet:
- Gluten is found in many staple foods of the standard American diet, including bread, pasta, and crackers.
- There are many foods that contain hidden gluten, and it can take some time to become accustomed to spotting these ingredients on labels.
- Gluten-free bread and pasta substitutions are often more expensive.
What are the Benefits of the Gluten-Free Diet?
If you have celiac disease, a gluten-free diet is necessary to support the healing of your intestinal lining and microbiome and any symptoms that you might be experiencing as a result.
Additionally, people who have tried the gluten-free diet have experienced benefits such as:
- Decreased bloating.
- Increased sense of well-being.
- Increased energy.
- Decrease in digestive discomfort.
- Improved mental clarity.
Can you do the Gluten-Free Diet as a Vegetarian?
Absolutely, there are many vegetarians and vegans that enjoy a gluten-free diet. This diet does not require the consumption of animal products of any kind.
Because many plant-based foods are naturally gluten-free and there are so many gluten-free grain options, this diet is easily accessible for vegetarians.
Concerns about a Gluten-Free Diet
Some dietitians express concern about eliminating grains that are fortified with vitamins and minerals from the diet as it could cause vitamin deficiencies.
You can, however, still get all of your required vitamins and minerals by incorporating more fresh and whole foods into your diet.
Resources for a Gluten-Free Diet
The gluten-free diet is a very popular eating regimen, and as such, there are many wonderful resources available online. You can find some of our favorite gluten-free resources here:
If you think that this diet might be for you, give it a try! There are many benefits of improved symptoms that anyone can reap with a gluten-free diet.
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Hi! I'm the founder of Speak Veggie To Me, a fun health and food blog where I share my favorite mouthwatering vegan and vegetarian recipes.